Choir production creates a role for everyoneJul 07, 2023 11:58AM ● By Jet Burnham
Westland Elementary School’s Junior Choir performs Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Cinderella,” May 2023. (Photo courtesy of Amanda VandenAkker)
Each of the 75 students in Westland Elementary School’s Junior Choir had a special role to highlight their skills in their spring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Cinderella.” Even the wiggly second grader with ADHD.
“This year we actually have some kids who I think have more trouble sitting still, in general,” Junior Choir Director Amanda VandenAkker said. “But they have so much fun, and it makes me happy that they have something that they're not getting in trouble, they're singing and having fun.”
She was a little concerned about how one of the youngest and most active students would impact the performance, but he stayed on task as one of the featured dancers. “He does the moves exactly right, he stays where he's supposed to be, and I can tell that he really enjoys being here,” VandenAkker said.
VandenAkker wrangled nearly 80 first, second and third graders twice a week for 30 minutes for four months to prepare for the performance. Students were featured in group singing numbers, solos, dances and narration parts. Older students helped backstage.
“I try and make opportunities for everybody to have their own moments,” VandenAkker said. “This show definitely highlighted a lot of kids.”
VandenAkker believes the experience of being part of a musical production at a young age helps them figure out who they are.
“I think it's important, because as kids get older and are in middle school, especially, and in high school, and they are not quite sure who they are yet, that they have a group—a family—to define themselves. [Music programs] are so important, because not everybody's a jock, and not everybody's a brain. This gives them a home. And so I do hope that some of these kids go on. I hope that they learn a love of music and participate in choirs at school as they get older, or however it is that they want to enjoy it, and that they see themselves as, instead of just a watcher, as somebody that can participate.”
She said music and theater are great outlets that can be a source of joy for many young people.
“There's so much around us that's negative, and there's so much depression and things of that nature right now, and this is just something that can make them happy, that they could do to affect their own happiness,” she said.
Like the coach of a sports team, VandenAkker teaches choir members to have a teamwork mindset.
“We talk about how our choir is a team, and we need to be kind to each other, and we support each other, and we want everybody to be the best that they can be,” she said. “You sing the best that you can and it makes everybody sound good.”
The team was thrilled with the support from school staff and from parent volunteers, who created a giant clock, a chandelier made out of glittering hula hoops, a fireplace prop out of a piano and 65 sets of mouse ears for the show.
“It really raises the level of excitement when [the kids] come in and they see all of this work that was put in for them,” VandenAkker said. λ